Birria Pierogies with Bourbon Pickled Red Onions 

Birria Pierogies with Bourbon Pickled Red Onions

  • Serves many
  • About 5hrs of time

To do something for parties, specifically Super Bowl parties, I had an idea: combine one of my favorite foods from where I grew up with one of my favorite foods I discovered when I moved out to Cleveland.






It seemed like the perfect idea: little dumplings stuffed with spicy beef and a bit of cheese, dipped in a chili consumé after being fried in rendered beef fat instead of butter. Served with pickled red onions instead of butter-fried onions. Squeeze of lime, some sour cream, a bit of cilantro and a nice margarita made with bourbon instead of tequila.


In many ways, this is the perfect party food.


However, In one specific way… mad respect to all the Eastern European grandmothers out there because even after researching pierogi dough, taking multiple stabs at it and cursing my own Bohemian blood for falling short on magic, I could not get the dough to work.


The first batch tore too easily and didn’t stretch very well.


The second batch shrank back in on itself.


The third batch was too sticky/wet and “corrected” into a starchy ball I would rather bowl with than eat.


The fourth batch required more flour, and the only thing I had on-hand was the double-ought I keep around for pizzas and flatbreads… which made me want to take a double-ought to my kitchen because the gluten was WAY too much for a dumpling, though it would make a convincing chow fun noodle if I wanted to view a rolling pin as something other than an instrument of self-lobotomization at that point.


I’ve attached the most successful batch of dough I tried so someone with more knowledge can let me know EVERYTHING I did wrong.


What I will try next time (if it ever comes) is cake flour built up with a tablespoon of essential gluten. Maybe that’ll give me what I want, and if not I’ll throw it at geese because I already have a tenuous peace with those foul creatures.


I was three. One bit me and I instinctually choked it in retaliation with tears streaming down my face while other parents quickly turned their children away.


My dad, on the other hand, laughed… at least until it became obvious I was committed to enacting revenge against a member of semi-domesticated wildlife at the city park with an audience.


What is birria?


Think of it as spicy shredded beef.

It’s traditionally made with goat meat (which is phenomenal), but people typically associate it with beef now because it’s widely available and more appetizing to people with [modern] palates.


Most recipes recommend beef chuck, which is a solid pick. Chuck is a relatively inexpensive cut of beef that slow-cooks well and has a good amount of fat for flavor.


Personally, I like to use stew meat because it’s even cheaper and loaded with the kind of connective scrap that lends itself to slow cooking. It’s also lower in fat, which allows me to add what I want for flavor to bring the Birria closer to a goat-funk traditional flavor.


Here’s the deal: you’re an adult, so pick up six pounds of cheap beef. Chuck. Stew. Top round. An assortment of beef cuts from the discount bin. Short ribs. It all works.


One thing to be aware of is if your meat has bones, you’re going to want to skim the foamy bits regularly. It’ll taste even better, but it’s a little more work.


I’m using stew beef in this recipe, so I’m going to add some fat. Chuck is about 20% fat. Stew meat is usually around 5-7%. In six pounds of meat, that’s a big difference in the amount of fat (and lack of flavor) you’re going to get out of it.


This isn’t a bad thing. It’s just something to be aware of and correct for (or tolerate if you want to keep it lean).


I have to throw something back in there… and for me it’s camel hump tallow. If that’s weird (and I understand why it would it), weird fat isn’t your only option. There’s nothing wrong with just using beef fat. Be brave and experiment to find your own take on it.


Turn it into a breakfast food with a riff on machaca and get your fat from a poached egg or two.


Add it to duck-fried potatoes as a topping with a little queso and pico de gallo.


Add an unexpected Indian flair and use some ghee.


My point is that an entrée is just a bunch of one kind of stuff with smaller portions of other stuff around it. Anything can be the headliner and anything can be the backup dancers. It’s up to you to choreograph that and that’s why cooking is fun.


Unless you’re making pierogi dough for the first time.


  • Needs
    • A 10qt stockpot, though a Dutch oven is highly recommended.
    • To strain out the bits to make the consume, I like to triple strain it through a colander and two metal sieves because I like a really clean broth. Use what you have: there’s no wrong way to do it and everything but the skins of the garlic and bay leaves are going to be turned to mush by the time the beef is done cooking.
  • Wants
    • An electric kettle full of boiling water: it’ll shave 10-15min off whatever I’m making that needs a lot of water to be boiled.
    • SuperBag for straining. It speeds things up and leaves great compost behind.
    • A stand mixer with the paddle attached to shred the beef later. I’ve always found something hilarious about putting unexpected items in a stand mixer and walking away.


Let’s get into it.


  • The Birria
    • 6lbs of meat, either chuck or stew meat
      • If using stew meat, have some (preferably animal) rendered fat to add later.
    • 3oz Cleveland Whiskey Black Reserve Bourbon
    • 2 Spanish Onions (I like them because they’re a little sweet)
    • 1 garlic bulb with the top and outer skin removed to expose the actual cloves of garlic.
    • 1 giant carrot cut into quarters
    • Bay leaves. Use as much as you like. Some people really like them, but I prefer sage over bay leaves… but I’m also a 9er’s fan. More than 3 ought to do it.
    • 5 guajillo chilis, stems cut off and de-seeded.
    • 3 ancho chilis, prepared as above.
    • Optional: 5 arbol chilis (if you want to bring some assertive heat), prepared as above.
    • 5 tbsp Beef Better Than Bullion
    • 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar (not traditional, but I love it)
    • 1 tbsp chili powder
    • 1 tbsp ground cumin
    • 1 tbsp salt
    • 1 tsp oregano
    • 1 tsp parsley
    • Enough water to cover the meat
    • OPTIONS: cayenne pepper and Maggi sauce.


Place your Dutch oven over a medium-high burner and let it come up to temp. Don’t add any fat yet as by the time the oven is hot enough to brown meat the fat will be scorched and disgusting.


While it’s heating up, cube up your meat. If you’re using stew meat, it’s already good to go.


Put on some Manu Chau and your best pair of caballero snakeskin orthotics.


Add your fat of choice for browning. I like peanut or avocado oil because it has a high smoke point, though you can realistically use anything you want as long as you keep the heat under the oil’s threshold.


Let it come up to a shimmer (no smoke) and add your meat in batches to brown it. This is somewhat optional: it’ll be shredded later, but the extra hit of complexity from getting a sear on at least one side of the meat is a good idea. More sides browned now, more flavor later.


While your meat is browning, start a kettle of water to get it boiling and remove the stems and seeds of the chilis. If you’re spicing it up, glove up. It’s too easy to forget to wash your hands completely after handling the hot stuff and end up gassing yourself on accident. It’s hilarious to everyone else, though, so handle yourself as you will.

Once you’re ready to rip, cover the meat with the boiling water from the kettle and allow it to come to a boil before reducing heat to a simmer. Go ahead and toss in your seasoning, spices, chilis, and salt.


For bouillon, I prefer beef or lamb. Some recipes call for chicken. If you have access to it, use lamb bouillon (it’s an English thing you can find on Amazon… and awesome). Don’t be stingy with it as most of your salt and overall flavor will be coming from it.


Also don’t bother stirring: convection finds a way, just watch your heat and prep the following while you’re waiting for it to come up to temp.


Cut your Spanish onions in half, remove the dry paper skin, root and stem. Toss it in.


Cut the top off your garlic bulb and toss it in. Don’t worry about peeling it, just take the outer paper off and rinse it to make sure you’re not adding a dash or Monsanto. The garlic will dissolve and you’ll strain out the rest later.


Cut your big carrot in quarters and toss them in. This will also turn to mush and you don’t need to waste time finding the bigger chunks later.


Once everything is added and it comes to a boil and you bring it to a simmer, put the lid on your Dutch oven and set your timer for 30 minutes and prep your


  • Pierogi Dough
    • 500g AP flour
    • 2 large eggs
    • ½ cup 2% milk
    • ½ cup buttermilk
    • 1 tbsp melted butter
    • 6g salt (different salts have different densities)
    • OPTION: 1 tsp drastic malt. This helps the browning process of dough, giving it a satisfying crust without making it like a shingle.


If you’re kneading by hand, sift your flour and all dry ingredients into a mixing bowl and mix your wet ingredients separately. Combine everything and mix until shaggy. Wrap it up in plastic and set aside to allow time to take care of the autolysing for you. The moisture will let the gluten do what gluten does without a lot of the elbow grease.


If you have some things to work out, beat it up until smooth.


Me? I like stand mixers or bread machines because while I want to make friends with doughs, I prefer them cooked… like geese, now that I think about it.


Regardless your method, wrap your completed dough in plastic and set in the fridge to rest and relax.


When the first 30min timer goes off, pull your chilis and put them in a blender with a bit of broth. Show no mercy: make them a bright red paste. Try a little bit of it.


Is it offensively hot? Leave it alone.


Is it not offensively hot? Add a little cayenne pepper to it, blend it again, try it again.


What is offensively hot? That depends on the person.


I have a pretty high tolerance for heat, so I judge what will be offensively hot to others when heat hits the very back of the roof of my mouth. If you’re a wimp, don’t worry about it: this is a traditionally spicy dish to cover up the flavor of meat that’s perhaps a bit to far past its prime. Make it the way it’s good to you.


If you’re more mild than wild, go with all ancho chilis and cut the amount by 50%. Just serve with a hot sauce buffet so your friends can punish themselves if the mood strikes and they’re not staying the night.


Add your murder paste (or verbal assault paste if you’re a mild fella) back to the pot, stir it up, and set your timer for the next 40 minutes.


We’re going to prepare the single most delicious condiment no refrigerator should EVER go without:


  • Bourbon Pickled Red Onions
    • Red onions: how much you make depends on how cool you are as cool is directly proportional to pickled vegetable consumption.
    • Peeled and smashed garlic cloves
    • Water and Apple cider vinegar in a 1:1 ratio.
      • I like apple cider vinegar for pickled onions because it’s a cuddly acid as opposed to an aggressive one like white vinegar. Either will do.
    • 35g of cane sugar per cup of water
    • 20g salt per cup of water. I like smoked salt because it’s delicious, but totally optional.
    • ½ tbsp Cleveland Whiskey Black Reserve Bourbon per cups of water to give it a little vanilla and oak like barreled pickles, plus the alcohol will help tie the room together.
    • 1 tsp peppercorns per 2 cups of water
    • OPTIONS: nutmeg, fresh dill, fresh cilantro, cleaned jalapeño picks, carrot picks


If you like spicy stuff, cut up a jalapeño or two after getting rid of the seeds and throw it in the jar. Same goes for carrots. All delicious additions to pickled red onions.


Combine everything except the onions, peppercorns, and garlic in a saucepan and bring it to a boil.


Stir it up. Sometimes the salt and sugar don’t dissolve easily. If that’s the case, add a little more water.


While you’re waiting to stink your house up with the vapors of flavor’s best friend, peel your red onions and give them a casual julienne.


What’s a casual julienne? Think of it as vegetable prep meets Bumble: get your cuts as uniform as possible, but don’t stress. At the end of the day, we’re talking pickled garnish here. Do the best you can while getting some knife reps in for cosplaying Chef Keller when people are looking.


To avoid the waterworks, you can wear a pair of swimming goggles if you have them around. If you’re not the SCUBA Steve type, just sharpen your knife: sharp knives save eyes.


Before you fill your jars with onions, add a few peppercorns and a clove or two of peeled garlic. If you want to dill it up, add some fresh dill now. I also like fresh cilantro.


But if you want to get truly weird, add a pinch of freshly grated nutmeg. Thank me later.


Once your hot stink juice comes to a boil, remove from the heat and fill your onion jars. Screw those lids on and set them upside down in the sink. If there’s a lot of air (onions will release gas when they’re heated), open them up and keep filling until there’s very little air or your run out of pickling juice.


Let them come to room temp (about an hour) and refrigerate. They’ll keep for 2-3 weeks.


Your timer goes off. Stir your pot.


Set your timer for another 40 minutes.


Pull your dough and make pierogi wrappers out of them. A method I found that kind of worked was pinching off about 15g of dough, smashing it onto a well-floured counter, cutting board or Sil-Mat, and roll them out. I like to keep a uniform height when rolling things out by using a couple of BBQ skewers as guides (I also use them to guide my cuts when prepping Hasselback potatoes because “just baking” starches doesn’t do it for me).


From there, I stretched with my fingers into the closest thing to a circle I had maintained patience for after making multiple versions of dough on a Monday night.


Some people use premade wonton wrappers for their pierogis: go for it. After trying to get the dough right, I understand taking this shortcut and won’t judge anyone for taking a shortcut.


Stir your pot every 40 minutes until the beef easily shreds and is stupid tender. This can be 3-4 hours depending on the cut you picked, the size you cut it, and how much connective tissue there is to break down.


Once you’re done (either with your dough or with your dough), relax and get ready to get to skimming it off the top of the broth.


This is easy enough while your pot is under heat: use a ladle and tilt the Dutch oven… then scoop it into a separate bowl. You want to save this to fry up your pierogis in (instead of the traditional butter). You can also fry up some eggs or potatoes in it… or knife a sliver onto a resting steak if you want to get cheeky.


Remove the chunks of beef and veggies and bay leaves. Get as many of these out as possible so you don’t clog everything up later.


Load your beef into a large bowl (or stand mixer) so you can shred it while you strain the consumé. If you used stew meat, now’s the time to add in some fat. You can use a neutral oil (though I don’t recommend it), beef tallow (really good), lard (fun) or my preference: rendered camel hump fat.


No joke. It sounds gross and it kind of is, in an indescribable kind of goat-adjacent funk sort of way.


Pick your fat and add a maximum of 5% the total pre-cooked weight of stew meat you picked up while it’s being shredded. This is a lot less fat than something like chuck, but remember that you boil the hell out of the beef and scoop the rendered grease off the top of the broth before shredding.


You don’t need a lot of additional fat.


Also taste for seasoning and add salt occasionally until you get to “almost there.”


When you’re almost there for your own palate, you’re there for someone else’s.


  • Almost There


Pour the stew/broth through a colander first, then through your metal sieves.


This is when a Superbag justifies its cost: it makes things so easy to strain quickly and thoroughly.


Either way, don’t worry about being left with a perfectly clear consumé. Close is good enough at home.


The funny thing is the beef won’t be spicy, but taste your consumé with a piece of bread: it’s all there, along with extraordinary beef richness.


Season your consumé if needed. If you’re finding the liquid is missing something, I’d stray away from salt and pick up a bottle of Maggi. It’s an animo/salt sauce that’s soy-adjacent.


Maggi adds a lot of meaty umami to whatever it touches. Go slow with it and make sure your Birria liquid is hot (temperature, not spice) to make sure you’re not seasoning too much. I always like to season as close to serving temperature as possible.


  • Making the Pierogis
    • Mexican blend shredded cheese or any super-melty flavorful cheese.


Grab your Mexican cheese blend and your big bowl-o-beef. Load up a wrapper with a bit of meat and a bit of cheese, seal them up, pinch the edges with a fork or dumpling sealer (also known as a fork).


If you want to freeze these for later, do so now. Lay them out on a cookie sheet and place it uncovered in the freezer until frozen. Load them in a bag after that and they should keep for a couple months.


The consumé will keep for a similar amount of time as well.


Heat up a large frying pan (preferably cast iron for heat retention) and get half of your consumé up to temp (not quite simmering).


Add some of the reserved fat (or just fat if you kept it lean) to the pan and fry up your pierogis. When they come out of the pan (they should be thoroughly browned), dip them into the consumé to allow them to soak up a little of the good stuff.


Set them on a strainer (cooling rack works well) so they dry off and transfer them to an oven set at low warming temperature until it’s time to dig in at a medium pace.


  • Serving


You should have a small crockpot going with the leftover consumé for dipping the Birria pierogis in before eating. The extra hit of spice is welcome, so set it out there with some small bowls and a ladle for your guests to serve themselves.


Set out some garnishes like lime wedges, sour cream, hot sauce, fresh cilantro, diced white onion, the pickled red onions, guacamole, queso fresco crumbles, etc.


Now demand a strong drink be made for you and settle into a comfortable chair for the game: your work here is done.